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Deane L. Root

(b Brooklyn, NY, Feb 15, 1893; d Santa Monica, CA, July 15, 1947). American songwriter, lyricist and publisher. He was a pianist and song plugger in Tin Pan Alley before World War I and then became a staff composer for Irving Berlin’s publishing company. His first successful song was My Mammy (J. Young and S. Lewis, 1918), which Al Jolson used in a blackface revue. My Buddy (1922) was his first popular collaboration with the lyricist Gus Kahn, who wrote the words to most of his hit songs, including Carolina in the Morning (1922), and Yes, sir, that’s my baby (1925). Donaldson also wrote My Blue Heaven (G. Whiting, 1927), Little White Lies (1930), and At Sundown (1927) and You’re Driving Me Crazy (1930) which became jazz standards. He left New York to work in the Hollywood film industry after the advent of sound, beginning with ...

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(b Terre Haute, IN, April 22, 1858; d New York, Jan 30, 1906). American songwriter, lyricist, publisher and performer. He was the brother of the novelist Theodore Dreiser. He learned the guitar and piano, and at the age of 16 joined a travelling show, adopting the pseudonym Dresser. From 1885 he performed with the Billy Rose Minstrels, composed sentimental songs and wrote and acted in five plays. After his first successful songs, The Letter that Never Came (1886) and The Outcast Unknown (1887), he became one of the first American performers to enter music publishing, as a staff composer for Willis Woodward Co. He continued to write songs (e.g. The pardon came too late, 1891), and about 1894 helped found the George T. Worth Co. (eventually Howley, Haviland & Dresser, 1901). The company thrived, mostly on Dresser’s tragic and sentimental ballads such as ...

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(b Cologne, Germany, Sept 30, 1875; d New York, Jan 14, 1942). American composer, lyricist and publisher. His parents, Max and Theodora Breitenbach, were Americans. He ran away from home at the age of 13, enlisting in the German navy and in the French Foreign Legion before coming to the USA in 1900. Fisher began composing in 1904; he also wrote the words for his first big success, If the Man in the Moon were a Coon (1905). In 1907 he started his own publishing business, in which the lyricist Joseph McCarthy was briefly a partner; this was remarkably successful. Fisher composed music for silent films and in the 1920s moved to Hollywood, where he wrote songs for films such as Hollywood Revue of 1929 and Their Own Desire (1930). He returned to New York in the early 1930s.

Early in his career Fisher concentrated on ethnic songs; later he made something of a speciality out of geographical topics, as in ...

Article

John Snelson

[Armitage, Reginald Moxon]

(b Wakefield, July 15, 1898; d London, March 4, 1954). English composer, lyricist and publisher. He became the honorary deputy organist at Wakefield Cathedral at the age of 12, then won a scholarship to the RCM at 15, studying with Sir Frederick Bridge and Sir Walter Parrott. After brief service in World War I he took a degree in music at Christ’s College, Cambridge; while there he began to compose popular songs, and subsequently Charlot commissioned him to write for his 1926 revue. Having adopted his now familiar pseudonym, Gay became a leading writer of popular songs, several of which became closely identified with leading British performers. These included I took my harp to a party (Gracie Fields), There’s something about a soldier (Cicely Courtneidge), Run, rabbit, run (Bud Flanagan) and All over the place (Tommy Trinder). Many of his songs were interpolated into films and became dance-band favourites. Alongside his collaborations with other lyricists, most notably with Frank Eyton in the 1940s, his own lyrics include ...

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(b New York, July 12, 1895; d Doylestown, PA, Aug 23, 1960). American lyricist, librettist, producer and publisher. Born into a notable theatrical family, his grandfather and namesake was the flamboyant opera impresario Oscar Hammerstein (1847–1919), who created and lost a handful of opera houses and companies around the turn of the century. Oscar studied law at Columbia where he became involved in the Varsity shows and, after graduation, continued to write songs. By ...

Article

Joan Morris

(b Poughkeepsie, NY, May 1, 1865/7; d New York, Dec 22, 1930). American songwriter and music publisher. Although he never learned to read or write music, he taught himself to play the banjo as a child, and at the age of 18 he became a banjo teacher and songwriter in Milwaukee. He performed his songs at amateur entertainments and attended performances of professional companies appearing in Milwaukee; he also became local correspondent for the New York Dramatic News.

After he had received royalties of only 85 cents for one of his songs, Harris established his own publishing company and almost immediately brought out his most successful work, After the Ball (1892), which was first interpolated by James Aldrich Libbey in a Milwaukee production of Hoyt’s musical A Trip to Chinatown. After advance orders for 75,000 copies of the song, sales eventually reached some five million, and the royalties enabled him to open offices in New York and Chicago. He published his own songs and the works of other writers, including several shows produced by Weber and Fields, such as Herbert’s ...

Article

Edward A. Berlin

[William]

(b Jacksonville, FL, June 17, 1871; d Wiscasset, ME, June 26, 1938). American lyricist, poet, novelist, anthologist, civil rights leader, and international diplomat. He began his professional life as an educator and lawyer in Florida (one of the early African Americans admitted to the Florida Bar), but in the summer of 1899 he and his brother, composer J(ohn) Rosamond Johnson, went to New York with hopes of finding a producer for their operetta. Although they were unsuccessful in this endeavor, they gained entrance to the musical-theater circles of New York; they formed a collaborative relationship with Bob Cole and became one of the outstanding songwriting teams of the early 1900s. Many of their approximately 200 songs were interpolated in musical comedies; among the most successful were “Nobody’s lookin’ but de owl and de moon” (The Sleeping Beauty and the Beast, 1901), “Under the Bamboo Tree” (...

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Geoffrey Block

(Henry)

(b New York, June 29, 1910; d New York, July 28, 1969). American lyricist, composer, librettist and publisher. The son of a noted piano teacher and the half brother of Arthur Loesser (1894–1969), concert pianist, author, and for many years professor of piano at the Cleveland Institute, Frank grew up in a musical home that disdained popular culture. He enrolled at the City College of New York at the age of 15, but failed nearly every subject. After his father died unexpectedly in 1926, Loesser gained temporary employment with a succession of newspapers, at the same time working in various and often unusual jobs, including those of a process server and a restaurant reporter. He began writing song lyrics in his late teens. In 1931, while working for the publishers Leo Feist, he sold his first song lyric, In Love with a Memory of You, with music by the future eminent American composer, William Schuman. After several more years of writing and selling song lyrics, in ...

Article

Deane L. Root

[James] (Francis)

(b Boston, July 10, 1894; d Beverly Hills, CA, May 23, 1969). American songwriter, pianist and music publisher. He learnt the piano from his mother, and in 1915 became a rehearsal pianist for the Boston Opera. From 1916 he was a song-plugger in Boston for Irving Berlin Music and from 1921 in New York for the F.A. Mills Co., of which he later became a partner. In the 1920s he wrote several popular songs, including When My Sugar Walks Down the Street (1924), and revues for the Cotton Club in Harlem. In 1928 he began a long association with the lyricist Dorothy Fields; their all-black revue Blackbirds of 1928 included the song ‘I can’t give you anything but love’, which was an early success for dancer Bill ‘Bojangles’ Robinson. Fields and McHugh were among the most successful songwriters in Hollywood in the 1930s, writing for such films as ...

Article

Ferenc Bónis

(b Budapest, July 2, 1880; d New York, Jan 15, 1967). American composer and publisher of Hungarian origin. Until 1906 he studied the piano with Árpád Szendy and composition with Hans Koessler at the Budapest Academy of Music, where he received the Volkmann Prize for composition, and at the same time he read political science at the university. While still a student he was second music critic of the Budapest German newspaper Pester Lloyd, and later he held a similar post on the Hungarian newspaper Polgár. In 1907 he took over the musical direction of the Budapest theatre, Modern Színpad, for which he wrote some 300 songs and the music for 12 one-act plays. After the success of his first operetta, A sárga dominó (1907) he remained faithful to that genre. From 1926 until his death he lived in New York as musical director for Chappell, although several visits to Hungary late in life resulted in the composition of his last two operettas and their subsequent first performances in Budapest....